A century ago Florida tourists took slow-moving steamboats down the St. Johns and Suwannee Rivers to get a close-up view of Florida wildlife and foliage.
Today, visitors to Florida can do the same thing by renting a personal houseboat and choosing their own destinations.
Or if you prefer a more developed destination, you can rent a houseboat in Key West or Sanibel Island and travel around the Florida Keys and vast Charlotte Harbor and its islands.
Wonderful Houseboat Row in Key West was destroyed by 1998 hurricane but the Keys are still loaded with houseboats and “floating motels.”
Websites like Homeaway Go Florida.com, and Houseboating.org cover Florida houseboats from Jacksonville to Key West, but you may get more information from specific dealers.
In Key West you can cruise in such luxury as a 38-foot houseboat from Houseboat.com, complete with a stateroom with queen size bed, four other beds, a full-size bathroom, and solar panels on the roof for the full-size frige and Wi-Fi. The mattresses are even Tempurpedic.
The major houseboat websites feature rentals on Sanibel and Capitiva Islands where people can cruise into vast Charlotte Harbor or go up the Caloosahatchee River. Go Play Outdoors usually lists Southwest Florida houseboats.
Going up river from Sanibel Island
The St. John’s River is unique among rivers, not just Florida rivers. Because it flows flow north , but its three hundred miles length is houseboat-friendly. The elevation change is just a 30-foot difference, meaning the St. John’s River flows very, very slow.
You’ll have plenty to see while cruising at this leisurely pace which passes numerous state parks and small riverfront towns with marinas. The largest St. Johns houseboat dealer is the HOLLY BLUFF MARINA, just north of Hontoon State Park in DeLand. They have a new 55-footer.
Another major renter is Houseman Houseboat Rentals located in Georgetown on Lake George, Florida’s second largest lake and part of the St. Johns passage.
Stephen Foster never came to Florida to cruise the Suwannee River, but you can rent a houseboat “way down the Suwannee all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.”
Miller’s Marina off County Road 349 in Suwannee is a longtime houseboat rental place and they know every bend in Florida’s most rural river.
So whether you want to cruise like Daniel Boone down a deserted river or island-hop along the resorts of the Florida Keys, there is a houseboat vacation waiting for you in Florida.